ClassDex: Class and Customer Management for WordPress

28 Aug

When my wife and I took over as directors of a yoga studio, at the time almost everything was done with pen and paper. Class registration was kept in a big binder — each student’s name and phone number was written by hand which often made it difficult to read the information. A mailing list was kept in a huge excel sheet and the information there was often old and inaccurate. Accounting was also done by hand, a process that would take a full day at the end of each month.

I knew we needed a system that was more integrated — a system that brought together student contact information, class registrations, and payment tracking. So I began looking at different options, and in my first month on the job I got a call from the folks at MindBodyOnline, a company that promises to offer everything I wanted and more. It’s popular software that is used by lots of studios and works for many businesses, but I wanted more control over my own business and I didn’t want to pay $175/month!

Yoga studio owners are accustomed to wearing many hats: We are the janitors and building maintenance crew, we manage class schedules and store inventories, do the accounting, pay taxes and payroll. But when it comes to technology, many studio owners opt to turn over the keys to someone else. This technology outsourcing comes in a couple of different forms: web-based software (like MindBodyOnline) that you have to pay monthly for or a web developer that has a larger setup fee and smaller on-going maintenance fees. In either case you’re spending quite a bit each year to keep your website going.

I decided I didn’t want to take any of those routes. I wanted an option that was free, easy to use, robust enough to manage all of the aspects of our business, but at the same time didn’t have so many bells and whistles that it became difficult to use. With no options like this forthcoming, I decided to learn the coding skills necessary to build the system myself.

I really enjoy the process of coding and all of the problem solving involved in that, so gradually over the last year I began to develop a program that we could use for our business. The more I worked on the program, the more I thought, “Lots of other studios and educational facilities need something like this! There should be a viable alternative to MindBodyOnline. Something that is free and accessible.” So I decided the share the program, called ClassDex, on WordPress: http://wordpress.org/plugins/classdex/

In the few months since we’ve switched over to using ClassDex, I’ve seen great improvements to our business operations. We’re now doing a better job of keeping student contact information up-to-date and capturing the contact information of new students — which means that we’re doing a better job of retaining the students who walk through our door. Accounting work that used to take me a full day each month, now only takes me 5 minutes. And our office staff picked up the new system quickly. If you are a studio owner that focuses on registration-based classes, then this might be a really good option for you!

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WordPress Plugin: Cart66 to Mailchimp

23 Feb

Cart66 is an easy-to-use, light-weight e-commerce plugin for WordPress. Our non-profit uses it to take online registrations for classes, memberships, and donations. During the payment process, customers enter their email address so that they can receive a digital receipt. I wanted a way to capture this email and add it to a Mailchimp list (if you don’t know about Mailchimp — it’s one of the best platforms for sending e-newsletters). Cart66 offers an integration with Mailchimp (for the Pro version of Cart66) — however, their method asks the customer if they want to join the list during the checkout process and only works with Paypal Express. I wanted to keep the checkout process as simple and hassle-free as possible, so I decided to create a plugin that would automatically send the email address to Mailchimp when the transaction is complete. If the user is not already on the list, they will receive an email from Mailchimp to confirm whether they want to receive the newsletter.

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If you’d like to check it out, download the latest version here. The plugin works with both the Pro and Lite versions of Cart66.

Can’t find your Mailchimp API Key or List ID? Check out these articles:

Google Apps for Non-profits

7 Jan

You already know about Gmail. You’ve probably even used Google Docs a few times. But why are Google Apps something that you want for your non-profit?

There are lots of benefits, but the main reason is this:

Google Apps provides a simple way to create and manage email addresses for your business’s web domain (i.e. john@yourwebsite.org,  jane@yourwebsite.org, info@yourwebsite.org, etc). And for non-profits it’s free. (For-profits spend $50/user/year for this service!)

You might already have email through your domain provider or your web hosting company, but these email interfaces are typically short on features and difficult to manage. You don’t want to have to pay an IT staff to maintain your website and emails — you need an email service that just works.

Say you own the website yourwebsite.org. With Google Apps, setting up emails addresses such as info@yourwebsite.org and john@yourwebsite.org is a snap. You can easily create email addresses for your staff and volunteers — all hosted with Gmail’s best-in-class interface — and then take advantage of all of the great collaboration features that Google Docs has to offer.

To get started, you have to sign up for the Non-profit program with Google. The process is simple and just requires that you provide your EIN, Tax Exempt number, and some other information about your organization. Google processes these requests quickly (the site says that may take several weeks, but my application was approved in just one or two days).

At the end of the day, Google Apps is going to take away a lot of IT headaches and save you time and money. Here are a few more links to help you get going and learn more:

Mission vs. Money?

6 Jan

I work for non-profits because I want my work to matter to me. I want to be inspired. The mission is important to me — just as it is for so many people in the non-profit community. However, I’m also money driven, and for many people these are diametrically opposed ideas. Some think that “Mission driven” means that your heart is in it and you’d do anything for the cause, whereas “Money driven” means that you’re corporate, greedy, and can’t possibly have your priorities straight.

The truth is that a mission without money is like a car without wheels. If you’re serious about making a difference in your corner of the world, you’re going to need money. And the best non-profits do a really good job of showing how money directly affects the mission. (When you sponsor a goat from Heifer International you know exactly how your money is being used.)

So while many folks didn’t join the non-profit community because of their passion for business, we’re starting to realize that if we’re not smart business owners our mission will never take off.

Didn’t go to business school? (Me neither.) So here’s lesson #1:

Profit = Revenue – Expenses

Most people focus on the revenue end of the equation, but I’ve found that it’s often a lot easier to make a big difference in the expenses end of things — and the impact is the same. Whether you make an additional $100 a month or you cut spending by $100 dollars, profit goes up by $100. You can’t always control how much you sell or how many donations you receive, but you have a great deal of control over how much you spend.

Therefore, I’m dedicating this blog to helping non-profits cut expenses. Because, as they say, a penny saved is a penny earned.